Thursday, March 13, 2014
The afternoon wind blew cool through the trees when we spotted Nazis dug in along the hilltop. Bobby prepared his company to take up the right flank. Captain McNeil would lead the charge on the left. The center was mine. Bobby and McNeil knew to charge on my signal. I waited until they positioned their troops.
I glanced at Captain McNeil and Bobby before checking the Nazi line where the infamous telltale shape of a Nazi battle helmet glared off a ray of sunshine streaming through the trees. I aimed my M1 and squeezed off a spurt of lead. My right shoulder absorbed the recoil. I watched as the head exploded into brains, skull fragments and blood.
Bobby charged the hill on the signal. He yelled for all he was worth. Sergeant Logan jogged at his side while barking orders to the enlisted men. I gawped around for Captain McNeill and spotted a company of men in olive drab combat fatigues storm the hill on the left.
The trees swayed back and forth like a Saturday night drunk back home on Gay Street. I smelled blood in the air as I stood up, raised my rifle, and felt the impact of a bullet ping off my helmet, but I didn’t let that stop me. “Cheee-arrrge!” I screamed and four battalions of crack Army infantry rose to their feet and advanced on the center of the battlefield.
The Nazis had three machine gun nests set up at the top of the hill, but Bobby had already grenaded one of them. I owed him a drink for beating me to the top again. Captain McNeill launched grenade upon grenade into the machine gun nest on the left side of the hill. I advanced straight for the one in the center while bullets whistled by.
The trouble with leading an uphill charge was the bullets zinged past in both directions. I dropped to the ground about a grenade lob away from the center machine gun nest. There was a rock where my knee landed and I felt instant pain. I thought at first it was a bullet. I had been through this before. If it hurt a lot, it was a flesh wound, and you kept going. If there was not much pain, you were probably dying. Call the medic and keep shooting.
I rolled on my left side, dropped the M1, pulled a grenade from my belt and grabbed the pin with my teeth to yank it out. I spit the pin on the ground where it bounced once. I let the handle fly off the grenade and counted... one... two... three... and tossed. It exploded as it crossed over the sandbags protecting the machine gun nest in front of me. One of the Nazis flew out of the nest like a bird. The others were just body parts and blood. The machine gun became silent.
I took a gander at the remaining machine gun nests and saw Captain McNeill bayonating the last of the enemy on the hill. I examined my knee and shouted, “Oh crud, Medic!” I would have said something a lot worse, but Mom would have skinned me alive, and besides, crud was a four-letter word. Bobby ran down the hill and scrutinized my injury. When we were not soldiers, Bobby headed surgery at West Chester Memorial.
“You’re left knee is scraped. Could be a bullet in there. I better operate.” Bobby declared.
I yanked my pants leg back down. “Nah, leave it in there. It’ll make a great story for my grandchildren.”
“Good idea,” Bobby responded. “I didn’t bring my doctor kit. I’d have to use a sharp rock and my hatchet. Want to chase Confederates?”
The story above serves as back story to my novel Steel Pennies. If you want to know more about young people and “blood fever,” click here.
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Some places haunt the soul no matter where we send our thoughts to hide. Choices made long ago rise out of the soil and tarmac of a place to accuse us. Our decisions hold us bound to a place.
If the streets of West Chester, Pennsylvania, could speak, Walnut Street between Market and Minor would still whisper names I once knew.
“Loco, loco!” calls the voice of High Street in front of the big bank in the center of the block between Gay and Market. West Chester is one of the few towns in America where you can drive in High and cruise out Gay.
“Loco, loco!” cries Will Barnes, the Black voice selling The Daily Local News outside the bank. Except in those days he wasn’t Black or African-American or even a person of color. He was Colored or Negro.
To my best friend at that time, Bob Durkin, an Irish kid like me, Will Barnes’s cry brought fear. To me it was like the scary movies at the Harrison Theater on Gay Street that spring and summer of 1960, films too frightening not to worry a kid with imagination, but so bad they couldn’t help but make you laugh.
If Walnut Street could speak of that time, the blacktop would reach up like Will Barnes and cry its own “Loco, loco.”
One of the games we played that summer was called Love. Walnut Street still whispers, “Tommy McConnell loves Penny Durkin.”
Yet Walnut Street between Market and Minor murmurs in an even softer voice as though the words were somehow forbidden or that the whispering of them will return the horror that only the tarmac and I know.
The story alluded to above is my novel Steel Pennies. If you want to know more about “the horror that only the tarmac and I know,” click here.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
I know where babies come from. Do you? My big brother Jimmy told me all about it. Jimmy said one day Mommy got sad ‘cause she didn’t have a boy friend. You know what Mommy did? Jimmy said she decided to meet a man named Daddy and so she did. Daddy made Mommy happy. That’s because Daddy was nice to her. Daddy bought her stuff. And Daddy took her places like the movies. Then one day Daddy took Mommy to church. That’s when they got married. That made Mommy and Daddy so happy.
“The End,” Jimmy said.
“Wait a minute,” I said. Where’s the part about the babies?”
Jimmy said, “Oh yeah, I forgot that part.”
Do you sometimes forget to tell a part when you tell a story? I know I do.
Then Jimmy told me about the babies. “So one day Mommy got sad.”
I said, “But I thought you said she was happy?”
“She was happy but she got sad anyway because she didn’t have a baby.”
“So then what happened?” I asked.
Jimmy said, “Daddy said to Mommy, ‘Look, Mommy, you’re not having a baby because you only have half a baby seed in your belly.’”
“How did Daddy know that?” I asked.
“Daddies are smart about things like that.”
“Oh,” I said.
Jimmy rubbed me on the head. “Then Daddy said, ‘Look Mommy, I have half a seed, too. Let’s put my half with your half to make a whole baby seed.”
“Then what happened?” I asked.
Jimmy said, “They put their half a seeds together, and a baby started to grow inside Mommy’s belly.”
“Then what happened,” I asked. I ask that a lot you know.
Jimmy said, “When Mommy’s belly got too big out popped the baby.”
“Was the baby me?” I asked.
“No!” Jimmy said. “I was the first baby. You came second. That’s why I’m the oldest.”
“And that’s where babies come from?” I asked
“Yep,” Jimmy said.
“That’s silly,” I said. “I thought they came from Pittsburgh or one of those places like that.”